“Wilderness First Aid: Reflections on the Contemplative Tradition” Sermon by Keith, 1st Sunday in Lent, 2.26.12

Scriptures: Psalm 25:1-10; Mark 1:9-15

(Note to those reading, during the silent time of confession, we had two minutes of silence versus our regular 1 minute)

          How many of you noticed that we had a little bit longer of a pause during the time of Silent Confession and Reflection? How many of you were uneasy or got restless during that time? I could hear the papers shuffling and people moving in their seats. I even peeked up to see who might be looking around. Now, we didn’t do this extended time because I knew some of you had a weekend of wild living and needed more time to confess all the things that you done. But I wanted us to grasp what it felt like to be alone with God and have our thoughts focused on God. Whether you realized it or not, what we did was contemplated God and our relationship with him. In that particular moment we focused on our brokenness and the healing and wholeness that God in Christ brings to our lives. Now, don’t let the word contemplate, contemplation, or contemplative scare you away from what we are talking about this morning. They are big words that simply point to a prayer filled life.
          So, who wants to take a guess at how long we spent in silent prayer this morning? It was two minutes. Anyone want to guess how much longer it was than our regular time? Double. Who thought it felt longer than that? Silence, even brief moments of it, can seem like a long time, especially in our culture where the TV and radio with their advertising and sound bites surround us in our homes, our cars, and just about everywhere we go. We are surrounded by voices and sounds that are vying for our attention, drowning out the voice that God for his people. I’ll be the first to say that when I’m up in the morning by myself, I turn on the radio for nothing but background noise. Don’t ask me what the news broadcaster said or what music was played, it is just becomes babble in the background. We live in a society where silence makes us uneasy, and we can easily turn off the silence with the flip of the switch.
          Now, we only spent two minutes in intentional silence. It’s not like I asked you to sit there for 40 days in silence, prayer and fasting, like Jesus did in the wilderness.  One of the things that you will hear Laura and I talk about between now and Easter is intentional imitatio Christi, the imitation of Christ, in our daily lives. And Christ prayed. He prayed a lot. Scripture is filled with stories of how he went off to pray and even how he taught his disciples to pray. He went into the wilderness to pray, he went to the temple to pray, he prayed in people’s homes, he sat beside the sea to pray, and he prayed for and with his disciples. And we are called to pray as Christ prayed. But imitating Christ doesn’t mean copying everything he did, including his prayer life, in exactly the way he did it. We have a friend in Alaska who felt you had to have a life that copied Jesus, but only up to a point. He headed out for his 38 day fast and prayer time  on a mountain top in the remote Alaskan wilderness. Thirty eight days because that strove for the completeness that is found in what Christ did, but not quite 40 days because he didn’t want what he did to compete with the perfection of what Christ did. I think he was missing the point. Imitating Christ means catching the Spirit of what he did, how he lived, and striving for unity with the Father that he experienced. It means taking on the nature of his Chirstlikeness, sharing his vision, love, hope, feelings and habits. And this doesn’t just happen out in the wilderness. It happens in our homes, our workplaces, and in the relationships with those we encounter on the way.
          The first question that this brings up is, “what is prayer?” Sounds like a simple question, doesn’t it? So it is a question that I will ask you, “what is prayer?” In the margins of your bulletins, take a moment to write a definition of prayer.
(Ask what people wrote) Many different answers to a simple question. A basic definition that I would come up with is prayer is a personal communication with God. Personal communication. Not just a one-way communication, like radio waves traveling through space. And we don’t pray to a something, we pray to a someone. In his discussion on prayer, Daniel Migliore, says, “God…is primarily someone spoken to, rather than only spoken about. Moreover, this someone addressed in prayer is not feared as a tyrant but genuinely loved as the sovereign and free God
who exercises dominion with astonishing goodness and mercy.”
          In our baptism, we are called into a personal relationship with this someone. This someone is the Creator of the universe that has been revealed to us in Jesus Christ. By the Holy Spirit, we are bound to the One who created us and knows us more intimately than we know ourselves. And that same Spirit that thrust Jesus into the wilderness for forty days of prayer is also pushing and nudging us into a life of prayer so that we can come to know more deeply this God who created us and loves us. The first question of the Westminster Catechism is “What is the chief end of man?” The answer: “To glorify God and enjoy him forever.” The glorifying part makes sense, but how do we enjoy God? In the same ways we enjoy the company of a good friend, our spouse, or our children. You spend time with them, experience them, delving daily deeper into their personality. We invite friends over to our homes, we laugh and cry together.
We do the same with God, and our fundamental way as Christians of building and experiencing our relationship with God is through prayer. As we invite God into our hearts, we get closer to the heart of God. It goes both ways. And this frees us to call upon God in confidence. This doesn’t mean mastering prayer techniques, it means we become more open and honest with God, not only praising God but also crying to God in our need, and even sometimes crying out against God.
          Calvin called prayer our “chief exercise of faith.” It’s interesting he called it an exercise, because for some folks, a prayer filled life comes easy and naturally, and for others, it is like pulling teeth, just like in any other exercise or practice. But, just like any other exercise, the more you do it, the easier it becomes. And of all people, you would think that the disciples would have known how to pray and pray well. They had spent their entire lives going to the synagogue and temple on the Sabbath, hearing the rabbis and priests pray. But they turn to Jesus and ask, “Teach us how to pray.” What Jesus teaches them is uncomplicated and bold. Pray first to glorify God’s name, for the coming of God’s reign, for the doing of God’s will, and then also pray for daily bread, for forgiveness, and for deliverance from temptation. Basically, Jesus is telling his disciples to keep it simple. As we learn to live in the presence of the one we pray to, we begin discerning the difference between what we want and what we need. Every action becomes rooted in prayer for God’s reign, for God’s forgiveness, and for God’s empowering grace, just like the Good News that Jesus proclaimed in Galilee after his 40 days in the wilderness.
          In the introduction to his book titled Prayer, Richard Foster creates a picture for us of what a prayer filled life will look like: For too long we have been in a far country: a country of noise and hurry and crowds, a country of climb and push and shove, a country of frustration and fear and intimidation. And God welcomes us home: home to serenity and peace and joy, home to friendship and fellowship and openness, home to intimacy and acceptance and affirmation. We do not need to be shy. He invites us into the living room of his heart, where we can put on old slippers and share freely. He invites us into the kitchen of his friendship, where chatter and batter mix in good fun. He invites us into the dining room of his strength, where we can feast to our heart’s delight. He invites us into the study of his wisdom, where we can learn and grow and stretch…and ask all the questions we want. He invites us into the workshop of his creativity,  where we can be co-laborers with him, working together to determine the outcomes of events. He invites us into the bedroom of his rest, where new peace is found and where we can be naked and vulnerable and free. It is also the place of deepest intimacy, where we know and are known to the fullest. The key to this home, this heart of God, is prayer…and the door is Jesus Christ.
          Friends, it is the first Sunday in Lent. When you leave this place and go home, I would invite you to pray. Take your shoes off, sit back, and share yourself and your home with God, because he wants to share his heart with you. Tell God you love him. In Christ, you are able to come into the heart of God and share those things you would never share with another, your hopes, your sins, your fears, and your dreams. Then be still and listen and know God’s heart is wide open.

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